Last night as I was listening to, and really really trying to like, T. Pain's latest over-produced and overly guest heavy new album Thr33 Ringz I quickly determined that Mister Pain is still painfully over-using that vocoder like voice altering program which I had hoped would have stayed back in the summer of 2007 when near every damn rapper had some digitally altered ear-piercing robot voice effect prominent in their sing-songy rap hit single/video. I thought or rather hoped the fad was long over. But I was wrong.
Apparently here at the end of 2008/cusp of 2009 this gratingly annoying vocal effect is still very much alive as proven by such current hits as the T. Pain featuring Lil Wayne single "Can't Believe It" -- found on the R&B singer's aforementioned recently released new album.
But let's leave T. Pain alone. Even more painful to these hip-hop loving ears is Kanye (the artist formerly known as a hip-hopper) West, who recently, in an interview about his rap-free new LP, announced that "hip-hop is over for me" and who dedicates his heartbreakingly-hard-to-listen-to entire new album (808s and Heartbreak) to (like T.Pain) singing through the vocoder like autotuner effects. Jeesh. I guess his hanging out with Daft Punk just rubbed off on him way more than anyone could have ever anticipated. Below is a clip of Kanye performing a track off this new album on Letterman earlier this week. Disappointing? Hells yeah and not coz the autotuner is a bad piece of musical recording/performing equipment. But like anything in music, as in life, it comes down to how you use it, or rather don't use it (3 words Kanye: "less is more").
But the simple fact is that while Kanye West may be a gifted emcee and producer, his singing chops leave a lot to be desired. A vocoder effect doesn't automatically transform just anyone into a gifted singer. Cher's 1998 worldwide mega hit single "Believe" (see video below) was a great pop/dance song because Cher is first and foremost a talented singer and the vocoder-like * effect merely highlighted her vocal gift. Same for the late great Roger Troutman & Zapp on songs like "More Bounce To The Ounce" (video also below).
*Note that Cher's voice on "Believe" was not altered by a vocoder but by pitch correcting the speed of her voice which was set too fast for the audio that it was processing, care of her producer Mark Taylor who added the effect to Cher's vocal merely as a test of his then-newly acquired DigiTech Talker. As the story goes there was initially no intention whatsoever of altering Cher's voice but upon witnessing the end results of the voice altering effects all agreed it might be worth keeping it. Meanwhile Roger Troutman effectively utilized both the vocoder and talkbox to create Zapp's trademark sound. And from even earlier, in the 1970's onwards, Kraftwerk were effectively using the vocoder in their robot-like futuristic sound (see video below).
Also below in the seven video clips is an early example of one of the first vocoder machines, a Sonovox in use by Kay Kyser from the 1940 film You'll Find Out (thanks to Amoeba Marc for hipping me to this one), plus an early sixties elaborate reel-to-reel beat matching display by virtuosa Delia Derbyshire -- the British woman famously known for the 1963 Doctor Who theme which was composed by Ron Grainer and played/performed by Delia Derbyshire at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
Thanks for reading. Please add your complaints, opinions, and/or positive comments below. And have yourself a voice altered free Thanksgiving!
One Of The First Vocoder Machines
Incredible Sonovox - Kay Kyser - 1940 film You'll Find Out
Reel-to-Reel Beat Matching Virtuosa Delia Derbyshire
Roger Troutman and Zapp "More Bounce To The Ounce" live in Aruba
Kanye West on Letterman
Kraftwerk "We Are The Robots"